Australian and Swiss Antarctic scientists are set to work more closely over the next decade with the signing of a historic new research agreement overnight.
The new 10-year Statement of Commitment between the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) and the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI) will cement an already strong collaboration dating back more than 100 years to the days of Sir Douglas Mawson’s 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
The Commitment lays out a plan to enable and promote greater cooperation between the two countries including climate science, global sea level change research and ice core science.
Australia’s new icebreaker, RSV Nuyina, is also set to feature prominently in joint research projects when its Antarctic service commences in 2021.
“RSV Nuyina has unparalleled scientific, cargo and icebreaking capability to explore one of the last frontiers on earth,” said AAD Director Kim Ellis.
“Its modular capabilities mean it will be a hub for supporting international scientific collaboration with Switzerland and other Antarctic Treaty nations.”
Australia and Switzerland are strong advocates of the Antarctic Treaty system, which establishes Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science.
Mr Ellis said strengthening international relationships was an important aspect of Antarctic engagement, highlighted through the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan.
“It has been a pleasure to negotiate the Commitment with our Swiss partners and it will start to deliver results almost immediately,” he said.
“A panel of scientists from both sides has already convened to discuss current projects and future collaborations.”
Scientists from both countries are already collaborating on cryosphere research through the international Space Science Institute, and have studied the impact of global sea level variations on clouds and precipitation at Davis research station over the last two years.
They’ll also continue to collaborate on sea ice research and modelling, including the rapid decline of sea ice over recent decades, as well as the study of glaciers, ice sheets and shelves, permafrost and snow cover in Antarctica.
Under the Commitment, ice core research between the two countries will also expand on ice age-dating and mutual deep ice drilling projects, such as Australia’s search for the million-year ice core and Europe’s Beyond EPICA.
Facilitated by the Embassy of Switzerland in Australia, the Statement of Commitment was signed during a virtual ceremony between AAD headquarters in Kingston, Tasmania, the Embassy in Canberra and numerous locations in Switzerland.
Speaking at the ceremony, AAD Acting Chief Scientist Dr Dirk Welsford outlined the AAD’s work on marine conservation and management, environmental protection and the Antarctic climate programs.
He said the future held “significant capabilities for large international projects that address global questions and present major opportunities for collaboration.”
The Statement of Commitment will also build on existing project partnerships between institutions such as the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (Davos), the University of Berne and University of Tasmania.
Executive Director of SPI, Danièle Rod, said the partnership held great potential and pointed to the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition organised by SPI in 2017 as an example of close cooperation between the two countries.
Swiss Ambassador Pedro Zwahlen said the signing “will promote the cooperation in Antarctic research between the polar and high altitude science communities of Switzerland and Australia.”
“Most importantly, Swiss and Australian scientists leveraging the AAD’s unique infrastructure in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean will advance our understanding of the engine of the earth’s climate,” he said.
Scientific representatives from the AAD and SPI will meet annually to monitor progress and identify new research projects.
A moment’s silence was held at the ceremony to honour the life and work of renowned Swiss climate scientist and glaciologist Professor Konrad Steffen, who was killed in an accident in Greenland in August.